Art Therapy Training W/ Stiller Zusman

PAW Organizer Carrie Freshour’s Reflection

Last Saturday, Sarah, Michael, and I met up at the home of professional art therapist, Stiller Zusman. Stiller is a sculptor and educator at the Clay School in Ithaca, NY. When we arrived, Stiller’s dog Chloe greeted us at the door, and there was warm mint tea welcoming us to her kitchen table. Stiller found out about Painting Adoption Weekend (PAW) through a small network of local artists. She, along with the Clay School, volunteered to train PAW organizers for free, as she values the mission of PAW and the power of art therapy. We are extremely grateful for Stiller’s time and energy! We learned so much!

The first thing I noticed was Stiller’s enthusiasm! We started with a very basic activity that fosters creativity, conversation, and group interaction using construction paper, scissors, glue, and encourages participants to work together bartering pieces and ideas in the construction of a collage. She spoke to us in the same way she wanted us to speak with the future participants of PAW, with genuine care and excitement for what we were creating, together. THIS WAS SO MUCH FUN! It’s been ages since I’ve put aside the computer, phone, and writing to just create something with friends! She was so happy, and this rubbed off on each of us. This activity was one of several that focuses on both the individual and the group simultaneously. Through each activity creating with our hands, we could also think and talk about identity and adoption together. We worked with several mediums, clay, paint, sticks, wire, gauze, discarded paper, and old maps. Stiller helped us develop alternative activities and ways of working with participants who may be more shy, reserved, and/or afraid of messes! She helped us think through the logistics of each activity, but also in what to do when and if someone is bored, sad, disengaged, or even angry. These are emotions that may come up when working through discussions of adoption, but also as participants are dealing with others in the group or just different ways of expressing themselves.

We spent three hours laughing, creating, and learning from Stiller. She gave us countless activity ideas and inspirational energy. We are raising money to invite Stiller to teach a session at PAW and to continue guiding us in curriculum development and volunteer training. Beyond this beginner’s lesson on art therapy, we also learned how much fun and sheer joy art-making brings to each of us. The kind of uninhibited thinking and doing that we, as adults, are often totally distanced from in our everyday lives (at least for Michael and I) allowed us to interact with each other in a different, yet meaningful way, and we hope that we can bring this to the adoptee participants in PAW in April.

Looking forward!